|GENEALOGY||LETTERS||COMETSCORE||ABOUT REX HOOVER|
There’s not enough time today for me to tell you the stories. But, I’ll try to highlight a few of Dad’s accomplishments and show you the remarkable man that was my father.
Dad grew up on the streets of Akron Ohio in the 40s and 50s. Fueled by testosterone and the lack of judgement that comes with adolescence, he made many poor choices. He borrowed cars for joyriding, right out of the owner’s garage. He stole fenders, unless the owner welded razor blades to the underside. He fought. He never backed down from a fight. He hated bullies, always rushing to the aid of the little guy. He had been in juvenile detention multiple times. To be honest, if I had met my father as a teenager in a dark alley, I would have run the other way.
God has a way of intervening in our lives to show us His plan. Dad’s moment was in the back of a car in front of the high school. He was in the car with a few of his friends and a couple named Charlie and Caril. Dad’s friend had paid Charlie $20 to shoot his teacher. Charlie had a rifle pointed out the window at the teacher when dad’s friend broke down crying, “don’t do it, keep the 20 bucks.” Dad said that Charlie had an indifferent and even disappointed look on his face as he pulled the rifle back inside the car.
This was Dad’s wake-up call. He decided that his life was going the wrong direction and from that moment on, he sought to change his thinking. Unfortunately, his reputation was well established in the minds of his teachers.
Soon thereafter, Dad had an argument with his world history teacher about make-up work after being out sick. In the heat of the moment, Dad turned around to walk away. The teacher grabbed Dad’s shoulder. “Don’t you turn your back on me!” Dad swung around and hit him. That was the end of Dad’s high school education.
It was around this time that Dad and Lynn started dating. And, Dad had a job working for her parents at the Smitley open-air market. Before long, Dad and Lynn got married.
So, as a 17-year-old newlywed, Dad wanted to start laying the foundation for his life. But, as high school dropout with a juvenile record, his options were limited. His juvenile court judge and his probation officer recommended the Armed Services. Dad and his brother Windy had always dreamed of joining the Marine Corps together.
But, at that time, the Marine Corp didn’t accept married people. The Air Force didn’t accept people with juvenile records. The Army was more accommodating, unless you were married AND had a juvenile record. Fortunately, the Navy was eager to have him. This started the beginning of Dad’s grown-up life.
Dad trained at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station outside Chicago and was inducted into the Navy 3 months after his 17th birthday. After that, he trained at Port Hueneme in California to be a Construction Electrician as part of the Pacific Seabees. He learned about electricity, motor/generator design and repair, telephone system maintenance, building wiring, and power line installation and maintenance. He graduated first in his class. So, he had his choice of duty station. He chose Guam.
Thankfully, just before leaving for Guam, the Navy gave Dad permission for emergency travel back to Akron for the birth of his first son, Tom. He flew from California to Ohio and hitchhiked 200 miles to Akron. He made the trip with only $2 in his pocket and he spend most of the first month of Tom’s life at home.
On Dad’s 18th birthday, he flew over the International Date Line on his way to Guam. He always joked about missing his birthday because of it.
On Guam, Dad spent his downtime exploring the coral reefs. On his first trip, he actually gasped when he saw the coral... definitely not a good idea when one is underwater. He often said that he didn’t know such beautiful things existed. So, he quit smoking to be able to hold his breath longer to see more of the reefs. By the time his tour was over, he was holding his breath for 2 minutes.
After Guam came Adak Alaska. Dad said that his body never acclimated to the temperature. He said he never got warm.
It was on one of those cold, rainy days that Dad was soldering telephone wiring in a ditch under a leaky tent that he decided to volunteer for the Naval Nuclear Power Unit. So, training began in Great Lakes Illinois... not quite as cold as Alaska.
12 weeks for Basic Electronics in Illinois. 52 weeks for Nuclear Power Plant Operations at Fort Belvoir Virginia.
Then Dad was stationed in Sundance Wyoming in July 1963. It was here that his daughter Sherri was born. He spent his spare time as a cowboy, working on a ranch or hunting rattlesnake.
You see, the Air Force had the good sense to build their nuclear power plant in Wyoming. The Army built theirs at Fort Belvoir. The Navy... well, they built theirs at the bottom of the world.
In September 1964, Dad was on an airplane to Christchurch New Zealand, and then another to McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. His tour would last 14 months at the bottom of the world. A warm day was -10ºF. He said the wind was strong enough to literally blow you away.
While at Antartica, Dad’s crew set the world record for continuous operation of a nuclear power plant, 141 days and 16 hours. The only reason the reactor was shut down was to train the new crew how to turn it on.
But that wasn’t the only world record Dad set. When Navy Seabees have quality decontamination equipment and some extra time on their hands, strange things happen. Dad’s friend John Fleming converted a decon shower into the world’s first nuclear-powered sauna.
But chillin' in the 140º sauna wasn’t enough for these creative men. Someone got the idea of subjecting the human body to a 200º temperature differential, likely just for bragging rights. Thus, the 200º Club was founded. In 1966, John Fleming, Rex Hoover, and Bob Robson stood outside for 60 seconds, wearing nothing but boots, and history was made. Yes, you did the math correctly. It was -60ºF.
When Dad returned to the States, he was posted at Fort Belvoir, teaching others how to keep the power plant up and running. The Navy sent 12 crews of Seabees to Antarctica, before the plant was decommissioned in 1972. Dad’s course trained most of them.
After the Navy, Dad joined IBM and worked in Fishkill NY. When he was making his decision, an IBM engineer showed him an exciting new technology: the Scanning Electron Microscope. Over the next four years, Dad became a pioneer in the SEM field. At the time, IBM was making things so small that you needed an SEM in order to analyze the components. Dad developed the techniques that IBM would use for decades. Dad is credited with his work in the book “Scanning Electron Microscopy” by Oliver Wells. This was the SEM bible.
As it turns out Dad met Mom on his interview tour at IBM. She was working with the Transmission Electron Microscope, literally down the hall from the SEM group. Dad may have said that he joined IBM for the SEM, but I think he joined IBM for the TEM technician.
So, as the story goes, they were randomly selected as representatives of each department to shop for a wedding gift for a secretary down the hall. While they were out shopping, they stopped for coffee, and the rest is history.
They were married in 1971.
In 1972, Mom and Dad relocated to Virginia. Dad had always wanted to settle in Virginia after experiencing the manners and hospitality of the South while stationed at Fort Belvoir. Dad took a position inside IBM as a bench technician to make this happen.
As he learned about the technologies IBM Manassas was developing, he became an expert in Large Scale Integrated Circuit design, and subsequently became an expert in Very Large Scale Integrated Circuit design.
Around 1980, IBM was contracting with the NSA. Dad designed a 64-bit encryption chip for them. The only problem was the NSA wanted him to scale back the design to 56-bit encryption because they could break that. (They couldn’t yet break a 64-bit code.) When the project was declassified, we found out this chip was used in the Navy’s sonar systems. Go Seabees!
After the NSA work, Dad transferred to the commercial side of IBM Manassas. He designed a computer chip under the name Micro 370. This was a Pentium-equivalent computer processor, in the 1983! Unfortunately, IBM elected to not use the chip because there were too many resources invested in the cooling system for their computer processors. (The large cooling systems were not necessary with Dad’s design.)
The next chip Dad designed was the video chip for the IBM PCjr. This was the first video chip in the world capable of producing more than 4 colors. It produced 16 colors.
So, for sentimental reasons, Dad bought a PCjr for us. His instructions to me were, “you may not put any games on this computer unless you write them yourself.” He often highlighted this as one of the most insightful decisions of his life.
Dad always said, “there’s no one you can’t teach something to, and no one you can’t learn something from.” He loved to teach, and as it turned out, he had an uncommon aptitude in psychology.
So, in 1985, Dad was made a department manager at IBM Manassas. His unusually high aptitude in psychology and his compassion for people made him a very effective manager. He protected his people and brought out the best in them, usually in ways they didn't expect. As a result, his department earned many awards for their work.
By 1990, Dad was managing a failure analysis lab at IBM Manassas. When he saw how uncomfortable his people were using microscopes to do their work, he had an idea. He decided that microscopes should be computerized instruments, not manual instruments. This was the genesis for TriTek.
By 1992, IBM was downsizing, offering their most experienced people large incentives to retire early. Dad took advantage of this opportunity and used the incentive to launch his own company. The only problem was, computer programmers cost too much and didn't have longterm interest in a start-up venture.
As Dad was telling his friend John Ferdetta about his problem, John replied, “why don’t you just hire Robert.” Dad credits John's advice as instrumental in making TriTek successful.
So, in the summer of 1992, Dad asked me if I’d like to work inside with a computer rather than working for a local farm. Remembering the hot days, hot barns, and hot tractors, I quickly accepted.
TriTek was born. We demonstrated the world’s first fully integrated computerized microscope within 6 months. But the world wasn’t ready. It took us 3 years to sell our first unit. (By comparison, it took Xerox seven.)
I worked alongside Dad for 23 years. We installed over 120 microscopes in 17 countries around the world. We were awarded eight patents for our designs. Our microscopes helped quadriplegic people hold high-tech jobs in semiconductor manufacturing, helped pharmaceutical companies develop cures for disease, and helped people get the necessary medical attention in remote locations. We even helped IBM and Intel inspect their really really small parts. Full circle.
Our microscope company lasted 23 years until a final downturn in the economy got us. (We had survived two before.) But, the legacy of TriTek is my dad’s empowering of others. Each of us who worked with Dad went on to have highly successful careers, just like him.
I tell you all this because everyone who knew Dad said the same thing. “He was the smartest man I ever knew!” They were right. My father was the smartest, most honest, most ethical, most professional person I’ve ever known. And the most amazing thing about his long careers… he never missed a ballgame, a school concert, an awards ceremony, anything! I honestly don’t know how he did it! He balanced a government subcontracting and groundbreaking career with family in an uncommon way.
Two years ago, almost to the day, Dad was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer at the age of 73. He had a softball-sized tumor in his large intestine that had spread to his liver and his lungs. But he really didn’t have any symptoms. All he had was a persistent cough. He went to the doctor, complaining about a cough. The doctor ordered a chest x-ray. Within 24 hours, Dad was visiting with the oncologist and everything changed.
Dad started chemo and handled it extremely well. He was always strong. He had the heart of a 40-year-old. Over and over again, doctors came into exam rooms and couldn’t believe they were talking to a 73-year-old man. I don’t think Dad had a single gray hair on his head until he was in his mid 60s!
Dad considered himself an engineer and a scientist. His analytical mind led him to conclude that an intelligent being created the universe. He often remarked how difficult it was to look around and not attribute everything he saw and heard in nature to a Creator. And in the end, Dad attributed his success in life to God who had had His hand in everything Dad ever did.
Dad spent a lot of time thinking during those last two years, and especially those last 2 weeks. I was with him almost every day at the end.
In one of the last conversations we had, we were talking about Jesus’ miracle recorded in John 2 where simple water was transformed into complex wine. Dad said, “it’s good that you hear these things and believe them in faith, but when you’re where I am, you see things differently.”
He said, “You know me. I’m very analytical. I’ve heard the stories and I know how stories are passed along over the generations. But then there are these little snippets where you say, ‘that really happened.’ And so if that part’s true, and that part’s true, and that part’s true, then the rest of the stories are true.” He understood that Jesus of Nazareth was not just an ordinary man.
I have complete confidence that Dad knew our Savior before he passed away. And now, whether in time waiting or outside of time waiting, Dad can see all the things we who believe long to see.
The reality is that there is a Creator of matter, time, space, and energy. Dad understood that.
The reality is that this Creator has a name, a personality, and a will. Dad understood that.
The reality is that this Creator stepped into time as a man from Nazareth, Jesus, who taught us about Himself--Father, Son, and Spirit. Dad understood that.
And the reality is that Jesus wasn’t lying when He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.”
Dad understood that God would raise no liar from the dead. And if Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me,” and if God the Father raised Jesus from the dead after three days in the tomb, then Jesus was absolutely accurate in His declaration.
Dad knew that. And we will see him again if we believe as he did.